PROJECT: STOCKHOLM WATER PRIZE2021: Sandra Postel
Sandra Postel is named Stockholm Water Prize Laureate 2021 for her groundbreaking work that has changed how many people view water. She was one of the first to warn of a global water crisis and to call for the conservation of water-based ecosystems. Today, she inspires decision-makers to find new solutions to water scarcity, climate change and biodiversity loss.
Sandra Postel is a leading authority on international water issues. In 1992, she published the ground-breaking book Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity about a global water crisis in the making. Considered revolutionary at the time, the message led to a new debate on threats to freshwater resources. The book was published in eight languages and later turned into a television documentary. Postel is a prolific writer, having published four further books as well as over 100 chapters, articles, and papers for both scientific and popular publications.
In its citation, the Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee says: “ Sandra Postel is a world-leading authority on water scarcity and one of the world’s greatest water communicators and educators. No one has exhibited more commitment, capacity, courage, and perseverance to address far-ranging and critical water issues that affect both human and natural ecosystems. Her work has been instrumental in shifting both public and professional awareness about the water crisis.”
Sandra Postel works tirelessly to raise awareness of global water threats and to draw attention to the impact that humans have on the water cycle
Many of the risks she warned of 30 years ago have unfortunately materialized: water scarcity is spreading, food security is increasingly jeopardized, freshwater life is disappearing, and water-related disasters are growing in number and intensity. At the same time, people now have a much better understanding of how these issues are interlinked and Sandra Postel has been instrumental in bringing about this change in attitudes.
One of her key ideas is to broaden the “community of concern” around freshwater and this has led her to constantly explore new forms of communication. Between 2009 and 2015, Postel served as Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society and she has appeared at numerous conferences, advocating for a more water-secure world. “Only by working with nature, not against it, can we develop more effective climate solutions and improve water management to restore degraded ecosystems.”
These ideas are gaining traction and in her most recent book, Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity, Sandra Postel shares inspiring examples.
Quotes from Sandra Postel on…
Water is life and both humans and nature depend upon it. But we seem to have forgotten that. Engineers have so successfully delivered water to most of us that we think we can just use more and more of it. But water is finite. And we need water security to have both food security and economic and social stability.
I believe the biggest threat to water and freshwater ecosystems is how we have broken the water cycle. Rivers no longer flow naturally because of dams and diversions, and we have overpumpedgroundwater so that it is depleted. The population of freshwater vertebrates – such as fish and frogs – are down 83 per cent compared to 50 years ago. Try to get your head around that; for every hundred fish and frogs that were around in 1970, there are now only 17. We are only starting to understand how we have impacted ecosystems and what the consequences will be.
We will experience climate change largely through the water cycle. There are worsening floods, worsening droughts, and more wildfires that create water quality problems downstream for drinking water systems. With climate change, we are outside historic norms and can no longer have confidence that the dams and levees are going to hold or that the reservoirs are going to fill again.
So, we need new kinds of solutions. Realizing that climate and water are completely intertwined, we need solutions that build resilience. Ecologists, hydrologists, engineers, economists, social scientists, and urban planners need to work together to face the climate challenges. It’s a new day.
Receiving the Prize is the professional honour of a lifetime, and I am very, very grateful to have received this affirmation that my work has contributed to enhancing the world’s water security. I am also really grateful that the prize exists because it shines a light for the world on just how important freshwater is to life on this planet.
Interview with Sandra Postel
More about Sandra Postel
Sandra Postel is an American conservationist and a leading expert on international water issues. During her years at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, DC, she was early in adopting a multi-disciplinary approach to water, after having studied geology, political science, and environmental management.
In 1994 Postel founded the Global Water Policy Project. She is co-creator of the water stewardship initiative Change the Course, as well as a prolific writer and a sought-after communicator. Between 2009 and 2015, Postel served as Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society.
Sandra Postel became a well-known name in 1992 after she published her book Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity, an early warning about a water crisis in the making. She has since published extensively in both popular and scientific journals, including Science, Natural History, Foreign Policy and Ecological Applications. Her most recent book, Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity, demonstrates new solutions to freshwater conservation and management.